Lawyer Blames Israel's National Library for Death of Woman at Center of Kafka Legal Battle

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Ruth Wiesler, one of two sisters claiming to be the heirs of Franz Kafka's manuscripts, and who had been battling the state over their possession, has died at age 80.

Wiesler and her sister, Eva Hoffe, claimed they inherited the manuscripts from their mother, Esther Hoffe, who had been the secretary of Max Brod, Kafka's close friend and heir to his literary estate. Esther Hoffe died in 2007 at the age of 101.

The state, however, argues that Brod's will clearly stated that "manuscripts, letters and other documents will be given over for safekeeping to the library of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, or the municipal library of Tel Aviv, or another public archive in Israel or outside Israel," and as such, they had never been Hoffe's property to begin with.

Of the two sisters, Wiesler, who died two weeks ago, was seen as more willing to come to a compromise. It remains to be seen whether her two daughters, who will presumably inherit her part of the Hoffe estate, will take the same moderate line.

Wiesler's attorney, Harel Ashwall, said: "The legal hearings in the case made a decisive contribution to the deterioration of her health."

He blamed the National Library, which is battling for possession of the manuscripts, the Custodian General, which in a recent legal opinion supported the library, and the executors of the estate of Max Brod.

"I hope that her death will lead to some introspection by some of the parties, and that they understand that actions have consequences," Ashwall said.

The executors of Brod's estate, Ehud Sol and his attorney, Yossi Ashkenazi, rejected Ashwall's remarks.

"Too bad that at a time of sorrow, attorney Ashwall is choosing to make harsh and ugly accusations, in contravention of the facts," they said in a statement. "Whoever is involved in the case knows the facts very well."

The National Library said Ashwall's remarks "are not worthy of a response."

Attorney Dan Novhari, who represents the court-appointed executors of Esther Hoffe's estate, said "Wiesler's death before the end of court proceedings is another tragic episode in this ongoing Kafkaesque saga."

He noted that efforts had been made, so far unsuccessfully, to forge a compromise that would bring the legal proceedings to an end, not least because of the sisters' advanced age. A verdict is expected in a few months.

Ruth Wiesler and her sister exiting a Tel Aviv courthouse in 2009.Credit: Dudu Bachar